Health-Related Searches

How Google is Changing Health-Related Research


First they tested out live doctor video chats. Now, the world’s biggest search engine is trying something else to better serve people searching for health info online. And that’s a lot of us: health-related research is one of the top three online activities in the world, according to the Content Marketing Institute. Eight out of 10 online health seekers begin at a search engine such as Google, reports Pew Research. And one in 20 Google searches are for health-related information, according to the official Google blog.

In February, Google announced that its Knowledge Graph would begin showing searchers key medical facts right upfront, as well as medical illustrations in some cases. The Knowledge Graph is part of the search engine’s ongoing project to make results more accurate and useful. It’s responsible for the autocomplete search function, among other features.

When people search for subjects the Knowledge Graph recognizes, an “answer box” like this shows up at the top of the results page.

Google Knowledge Graph

According to Google, new results will “…show you typical symptoms and treatments, as well as details on how common the condition is — whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more. For some conditions you’ll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators. Once you get this basic info from Google, you should find it easier to do more research on other sites around the web, or know what questions to ask your doctor.” Google worked with a team of medical doctors and Mayo Clinic to compile, curate, and review this information.

It’s a step in the right direction, says Bryan Vartabedian, M.D., a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital. On his blog, 33 Charts, he wrote, “Before now, Google was a sewer of health misinformation …” He believes that Google’s quest to gather more supporting knowledge from credible sources is good news for health consumers.

But is it good news for doctors? Or is Google’s new move yet another threat to the doctor-patient relationship and practices’ bottom lines?

Not if you step up your game in terms of patient engagement and your own content offerings. In a previous post on why you should be a source of health info for your patients, we pointed out that as an expert in your field, you can provide your patients with targeted, personalized information that Google can’t. Also, you probably have access to specialized, proprietary content that is not available for free online.

You could also take the approach of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” This post offers suggestions on how to get your content to show up in Google’s Knowledge Graph results. Among the recommendations are things you likely are — or should be — doing already, such as:

  • Creating in-depth quality content that answers specific queries (e.g. What are cataracts? Can anyone wear contact lenses?)
  • Posting to Google+ (and LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter) to increase the odds of being indexed and shown prominently
  • Publishing multiple kinds of content, including video, infographics, and high-quality images

And rest assured that no matter what kind of technological advances are made in the way people search for and access health information, there will never be a substitute for real, live doctors. As Vartabedian says, “As we face rising levels of information, we need human sensibility and contextual application that can only come through curation. How we make sense of information is, in the end, more important than the information itself.”

To find out how you can integrate technology into your practice to engage and educate patients, or for a demo of Echo, our cloud-based patient education program, get in touch today.

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